VANCOUVER - The biting Edmonton cold was a factor on Saturday afternoon at Foote Field, but it wasn't enough to stop a dominant performance from the UBC Thunderbirds. The T-Birds were excellent on both sides of the ball, and nearly doubled up on the Alberta Golden Bears, winning by a 39-21 score line.
The Thunderbirds' rushing attack was relentless all afternoon, piling up 278 total yards on the ground. Fifth-year senior tailback Brandon Deschamps (Prince George) led the way for the T-Birds, posting 86 yards and a score on 16 carries. Receiver Will Watson (Surrey) was also a huge contributor in the running game, adding 72 yards to go with his team-high 55 through the air.
Quarterback Michael O'Connor (Orleans, Ont.) managed the ball well through the air, hitting 21 of his 32 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns. The freshman also showed off his athleticism on the ground with 45 rushing yards.
On special teams, Quin van Gyswyk (Victoria) was his usual, efficient self, drilling four of five field goal attempts amidst some vicious winds, with a long of 39-yards.
As good as the offense was for the T-Birds, their defense might have been even better, making several key stops on third down situations, and forcing a couple of key turnovers. Free safety Taylor Loffler (Kelowna) and linebacker Mitch Barnett (North Vancouver) tied for the team lead with seven tackles apiece, with Loffler adding a forced fumble and Barnett tagging on a sack. Defensive tackle Dante Vagini (Coquitlam) also added a crucial pick for the T-Birds in the late stages of the contest.
The T-Birds defence opened the scoring for the Blue and Gold, forcing a conceded safety on Alberta's opening drive.
van Gyswlyk added to the UBC lead on the ensuing drive, nailing a 38-yard field goal and making it 5-0 just four minutes into the contest.
After the T-Birds defence stymied Alberta on their next possession, tailback and return man Marcus Davis (Victoria) put UBC at midfield with a shifty 21-yard punt return.
The offence took full advantage of the good field position, with Watson opening the drive with a 17-yard rush on a jet sweep. Then, O'Connor called his own number, racing down to the Alberta 20 yard line. The UBC quarterback then used his arm to find Alex Morrison (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) in the corner of the end zone, lofting a beautiful ball where only the 6-4 receiver could get his hands on it.
A failed two-point conversion attempt left UBC with an 11-0 lead.
Just a couple of minutes later, and with great field position inside Alberta territory following a poor punt by the Golden Bears' Stephen Fabian, the T-Birds offence went back to work. Another O'Connor scramble and a couple of short passes to H-Back Liam Haime (Winnipeg, Man.) and Davis led the T-Birds to the Alberta five-yard line. Deschamps did the rest, following a great block from tackle Alec Pennell (Port Coquitlam) and fighting his way to the end zone.
Loffler, who came into the day sitting second in Canada West with 8.4 tackles per game, made his impact felt on the next Alberta drive. After receiver Joel Bishop took a pass from quarterback Ben Kopczynski and was gang tackled after a 21-yard gain, Loffler smartly got his hand on the football, knocking it out. The T-Birds recovered the fumble, and took over at their own 44-yard line.
The drive ended in a chip shot for van Gylswyk, and his 19-yard field goal put the 'Birds up 21-0, with 14 minutes left in the second quarter.
The game seemed to settle for a while, and neither side seemed to be able to get much traction in the latter part of the frame.
With three minutes left in the quarter, and after orchestrating the first threatening drive for the Golden Bears, Kopczynski was sidelined after suffering a horse-collar tackle from T-Birds linebacker Terrell Davis (Victoria). The penalty put Alberta on the UBC six-yard line, where backup quarterback Baker came in and delivered a short pass to running back Ed Ilnicki, who took it to the house.
The score stayed 21-7 for the T-Birds as the two teams headed into the lockerrooms at halftime.
Forcing a two-and-out on Alberta's first drive of the second half, Watson had the big play of BC's next series, taking a handoff from O'Connor and finding a hole in the defence, breaking through the secondary for a 55-yard scamper. van Gylswyk ended the drive with a 39-yard blast through the uprights.
The defence continued to step up on the next Alberta drive, and Barnett got his fourth sack of the season on second down, taking down Baker to force another punt.
Deschamps, a native of Prince George, was at home in the Edmonton cold, and it showed. Follwing another Davis return, the bruising tailback ripped off runs of 12 and 16 yards, in addition to a catch for an additional six. That set up Van Gylswyk again, and the kicker put another one through from 24 yards out.
Baker got Alberta a little closer with just four minutes and change left in the third quarter. Baker led an excellent drive, and mixed in a little Ilnicki running, getting the Golden Bears down to UBC's one-yard line. Baker then called his own number, and dove over the pile for seven points.
T-Birds head coach Blake Nill has shown his creativity with trick plays in the last two UBC contests, and he did so again on UBC's next drive. Faced with a third-and-long situation on the Alberta 40-yard line, van Gylswyk took a fake punt and bolted, following a couple of solid blocks for a 15-yard gain and the first down.
With new life, O'Connor wasted no time, finding running back Ben Cummings, who had released out of the backfield and gotten open in the left corner of the end zone. The score restored the T-Birds' three-possession lead, putting them up 34-14.
UBC's defence wasn't about to be outdone. On Alberta's next series, Baker attempted to throw a screen pass across the field, where Vagini reached up and snagged it, bringing down the pick at the Alberta 23-yard line.
At the start of the fourth quarter, UBC turned the interception into three more points, with van Gyswlyk hitting a 30-yarder, and increasing the T-Birds' lead to 23.
UBC's defence bent but didn't break on the Golden Bears' ensuing possession. Baker marched Alberta down to the UBC nine, but faced with a third down, Loffler came up big on the next play. The fifth year senior broke into the backfield and brought down Alberta receiver Aundrey Webster for a loss of two yards and a turnover on downs.
Another conceded safety for the Golden Bears, followed by an even later Alberta touchdown, rounded at the scoring for the afternoon, and the scoreboard read 39-21 for the 'Birds by the final whistle.
For the Golden Bears, Kopczynski finished 10-of-15 for 109 yards, while Baker went 14-of-25 for 142, a touchdown and an interception. Ilnicki ended the contest with 92 yards on the ground via 18 carries, to go with two receptions for 18 yards and the score. Receivers Tylor Henry and Jimmy Ralph brought down six balls for 91 yards and eight balls for 70 yards, respectively, with Ralph adding a garbage time touchdown.
Next week marks a league-wide bye week for Thanksgiving, but the Thunderbirds and Golden Bears will complete their home-and-home series, with the Canada West playoffs on the horizon, on Saturday, October 17. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. (PT) at David Sidoo Field at Thunderbird Stadium.